7 Script Editing Tips that Will Take Your Screenplay from Good to Great

Even though you’ve finished writing your script, it’s still a first draft and most scripts need more than one draft to be ready for production. That means it’s time for you to start editing your script. But, how do you edit a film script exactly? These seven tips aim to help you answer that question, making the editing process more manageable and much less daunting.

Take Some Time to Rest

I’m serious. Take a two week break to recharge. You’ve spent hours upon hours writing the first draft of your script. That is no easy task and if you start editing right after you finish, your mind will be too worn out to edit effectively. By taking some time away from your script to recharge your creative juices, you’ll be able to edit much more efficiently when it comes time to revisit your script.

Now, taking time away from a script can be hard if you’re working on a deadline, but even just taking a day or two to reset can make a world of difference.

Also make sure you don’t spend too much time away. There’s a difference between resting and procrastinating.

Don’t Cling to Your First Draft

It’s very easy for a scriptwriter to become so attached to their original vision that it’s almost like giving up one of his or her children if he or she has to change any of it. But if you want your script to grow into something truly great, you’re going to have to learn let go and be open to major changes.

Great ideas ultimately come from revising and refining good ideas.

Million-dollar ideas rarely come from the first few brainstorming sessions. If they came that easy, we’d all be millionaires. Great ideas ultimately come from revising and refining good ideas. It’s a process that requires an open mind, which you can’t have if you’re clinging onto your first draft.

Cut Scenes that Don’t Further Your Film’s Story

Your film’s script may contain a scene that you love — it has a hilarious joke or it has some striking cinematography planned — but if that scene doesn’t further your film’s thesis or overarching plot, you need to let it go.

Viewers will quickly lose interest in a film that confuses them. That’s why you need to cut all the scenes that distract from the main plot.

Every scene in your film has to have a specific purpose that helps move your film and its viewers to your script’s conclusion. Whether that purpose is to communicate a character’s personality, reveal the plot’s climax, or show character growth, it’s imperative that all your
scenes mean something to your plot, not just fill screen time.

To decide whether or not a scene should be cut, take a second to step back and honestly ask yourself: “what is this scene’s purpose and does it help my movie get to where I want it to go?” If you can’t think the scene’s purpose to your film’s plot, cut it.

Comb Through the Dialog

Dialog is where a lot of beginning film writers struggle. They write their films like novels, relying too much on words to tell their film’s narrative.

For instance, suppose there’s a script with a lead female character that doesn’t trust any man that reminds her of her father. If the script was written beginning film writer, he or she may rely too heavily on dialog to communicate the protagonist’s personality. The protagonist may say to her friends: “I don’t trust men that remind me of my father,” directly letting the audience know that she possess that trait.

It works, but it’s bland. An experienced filmmaker knows that any piece of dialog that can be replaced visually should be. Instead of the main character verbally letting the audience know she doesn’t trust men that remind her of her father, an experienced film editor would cut the dialog conveying that trait directly and replace it with a scene where the female lead glares and avoids every man she comes across that resembles her father. This approach is much more compelling and, in a way, more realistic than the former approach.

By cutting all of the unnecessary dialog and replacing them with visual storytelling, your audience will be much more engaged in your film because you’re actively participate in the interpretation of your film’s underlying messages.

Rearrange Scenes for Better Pacing

Now that you have trimmed all the fat from your script, you have to make sure that the pacing of your film is working for the kind of film you are trying to tell.

By moving scenes into different places, the change in your film’s pace could both help your film run more smoothly and make the surrounding scene much more compelling.

Take advantage of the emotional effects each scene could have on your audience. Changing the position of just one scene could change the entire feeling of you film. Rearrangement is a very powerful tool that can, when used effectively, literally push your film from its beginning stages into being a polished and gripping work of art.

Vigorously Re-read and Spell-Check Your Script Multiple Times

Grammar and spelling matters to film producers. It communicates how serious and skilled you are with writing scripts. Think of it as a first impression for producers. It’s what they use to judge the initial character of your script, later helping them decide if they want to invest more time with your script to discover its true inner personality.

Producers are much more likely to pick up a script that has little to no spelling or grammar errors than one full of them. They will not struggle to read through a script that is hard to read due to grammar or spelling, regardless of how good its story is. Rather than struggle through it to see the great underlying story of your script, they’ll assume you’re not skilled enough to write a good film script and put it down before moving on.

Run your script through word processors that catch spelling and grammar errors. Then read it multiple times, both silently and out loud. Some errors can go unnoticed if they aren’t heard.

You can also hire professional editors to read over your work and make corrections if you aren’t proficient with the aspects of grammar and spelling.

Make Sure Your Script is Formatted Correctly

All film scripts follow a universal format that all companies look for when they read scripts. Formatting is just as important as the actual process of writing you film. Some film producers won’t even read your script if it isn’t formatted correctly. That’s why it is important for you make sure that your script is formatted correctly.

Proper formatting is important, especially if you’ll be shopping your script around to studios and agents or working with other professionals on set.

If you aren’t familiar with how a script should be formatted, there are dozens of online sites that can help you format properly.

Editing is a crucial process that is essential for writing a great and polished script. Though the thought of editing can be a little daunting and confusing at first, it shouldn’t be dreaded. If you keep an open mind and follow these tips, you be able to edit and finish your script in no time.

Sean Berry is a professional writer and aspiring graphic novelist.